Tuesday, September 9, 2014

RLPB 277. Lebanon: conflict looms, Christians threatened

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 277 | Wed 10 Sep 2014

By Elizabeth Kendal

Lebanon hosts more than 1.5 million Syrian refugees. Though most are Sunnis (many of whom support the rebel cause) quite a number are Christians. On 5 June 2013 the situation in Syria pivoted dramatically when the Syrian Arab Army (SAA), supported by fighters from Hezballah (Lebanon), Iraq and Iran, liberated the strategic city of Al-Qusayr near the border with Lebanon, changing the balance of power on the ground.
North Lebanon (click to enlarge)
 source (whole map)
Subsequently, thousands of rebel fighters retreated into Lebanon where they have become isolated, cut off from the main theatres of jihad. Most have settled into camps for Syrian refugees and at least 1,500 fighters moved into the refugee camps on the barren plains of Arsal just 40km south-west of Al-Qusayr, off the main highway in the hills overlooking the Bekaa Valley. Up to 25,000 Christians live in the Bekaa Valley villages of al-Qaa, al-Fakha and Ras Baalbek. A group calling itself the Ahrar al-Sunnah Brigade -- which has reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) 'caliph' Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi -- has been threatening to attack churches and Christians, even threatening to 'purge the Islamic emirate of Bekaa'. Tensions are soaring and the fear is palpable.

On 2 August 2014, clashes broke out in Arsal between Lebanese security personnel and fighters from al-Nusra and IS after police arrested al-Nusra commander Emad Jumaa. [While IS and al-Nusra (which is allied to the Free Syrian Army) are fighting each other in northern Syria, they are allies (for the moment) in Lebanon.] A truce was brokered on 7 August, but not before some 20 Lebanese soldiers had been killed and 42 Lebanese security personnel -- 22 from the army and 20 from the Internal Security Forces -- had been taken hostage. Under the terms of the truce, the jihadists lost their ground, having to retreat out of Arsal into the barren lands beyond, but retained their captives. They remain inside Lebanon as Syria will not permit them back on Syrian soil. Hezballah has laid siege to the area.

In early September the rebels issued their first demand, insisting the Lebanese government release some 400 Islamists being held in Lebanese prisons. To show they were serious they beheaded a soldier -- a Sunni named Ali al-Sayed -- and threatened to behead another should the government fail to comply. Shi'ite clans made it clear that if any Shi'ite were harmed they would retaliate against Syrian refugees. On 4 September the Lebanese government rejected the terrorists' demand so on 6 September the jihadists beheaded another soldier -- Abbas Medlej, a Shi'ite -- while threatening to behead more Shi'ites should Hezballah or its backers harm any Syrian refugee. [Presumably though, al-Nusra and IS would only care only about Sunni refugees.]  Shi'ite clans have retaliated by issuing Syrian refugees with written ultimatums to leave Lebanon.

Mar Elias Church
In recent days churches in the northern port city of Tripoli have been marked with Arabic graffiti. Messages have included, 'The Islamic State will break the cross,' and 'We came to slaughter you, you worshippers of the cross.' The Lebanese army has deployed extra forces to the area.

Hezballah regards the recent clash in Arsal as the beginning of a new conflict, predicting that the Bekaa Valley and the Sunni stronghold of Tripoli are likely to be the next battle grounds of IS. Christians are taking up arms to defend themselves. A Christian youth explained why he joined the local protection committee: 'What has happened in Mosul has been a message to all Christians of the East that the world will not protect them and that they need to rely on themselves to defend their existence.' Umm Milad fled Mosul (in Nineveh, Iraq) in June after ISIS marked her home with a  (an Arabic 'n' for 'Nasrani' / Christian) and ordered the family out. Now Umm, her husband and children are refugees. She weeps as she collects aid from a Chaldean church in Beirut. 'We are scared,' she says. 'We don't want to go back.'


* Christians in Lebanon -- whether they are armed or not -- will inquire of the Lord, look to him and put their trust first and foremost in him -- not in armies or militias or weapons or 'the world' or themselves. [This was the call of the prophet Isaiah when Judea was existentially threatened. See: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today.]

* the Lord of grace and peace will grant Lebanon's leaders great wisdom as they seek to tackle the refugee crisis, particularly the threat to national security caused by displaced jihadis.

* our heavenly Father will protect, guide and provide for the thousands of Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq now caught up in Lebanon's refugee crisis.

Regarding the fact that the enemies of Christ and Israel, i.e. al-Nusra, IS and Hezballah (and their state sponsors) are coming face to face in the region, read 2 Chronicles 20:1-30, where by grace, through faith, the Lord had his enemies destroy one another (v23).

Pray for great faith to arise, ' . . . for the battle is not yours but God's (v15).'


In June 2013 the Syrian Arab Army liberated the strategic town of Al-Qusayr, changing the balance of power on the ground. Thousands of jihadis subsequently retreated into the mostly Sunni Syrian refugee camps in Lebanon. Tensions are soaring now as these displaced jihadis launch attacks inside Lebanon. Christians and churches have been threatened in the Sunni stronghold of Tripoli and in the Bekaa Valley. On 6 September Sunni jihadists beheaded a Shi'ite from the Lebanese security forces, causing sectarian tensions to erupt. A new conflict is looming. Lebanese Shi'ites are demanding that Syrian refugees leave Lebanon. This crisis could hit Christian refugees from Syria and Iraq hard -- where can they go? Please pray for Lebanon, for the Lebanese Church and for the Christian refugees caught up in this crisis.


Elizabeth Kendal is the author of
Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today 
(Deror Books, Dec 2012).